I'm Aza Raskin @aza. I make shiny things. I simplify.

I'm VP at Jawbone, focusing on health.

 

Why Praise is like a Wheel In Gravel

Positive reinforcement is far more effective than negative reinforcement. It’s as true for people as it is for animals. But, why?

Information theory has the answer.

Is it easier to pull or push a shopping cart through a gravel parking lot? If you’ve tried, you know it’s significantly easier to pull than push the wheels through the gravel. That’s because when you push a wheel, it has many ways to turn aside. Pushing doesn’t provide a corrective force, so when it goes off path it stays that way. When you pull, there are far fewer ways for the wheel to stray because you’re always providing a corrective force — it always bounces back towards the center.

From information theory we know that the more options there are to choose from, the more work is required to choose one. You have to put in work to fight the entropy of choice.

It’s exactly the same with negative versus positive reinforcement. With negative reinforcement, there are many ways for the recipient to react: You are pushing them through gravel, they can turn the wrong way because you aren’t giving them a guiding, corrective force. With positive reinforcement, there is only one way for the person to go. The right way.

So the next time you are about to whack someone for a mistake, think about whether you’d rather be pulling or pushing a wheel thought gravel.

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Alright then, here goes; positive reinforcement:
Your site is a professional and personal inspiration to me. Your reflections are spot-on and often very poignant. Keep up the great work. :)



Julie

Hey ‘za – I hope you’re enjoying those white trays from your birthday – I saw mine yesterday and thought of you. How is it out there?



Ben Keating

Nicely put. Good analogy.
There is also beauty in chaos, don’t you agree?



Aza Raskin

@Andrew, Thanks! Now to go write more :)

@Julie, I’m not cooking as much as I was anymore. Just too busy (and I don’t like my kitchen), but I promise to put those awesome white dishes to use soon.

@Ben: Chaordic is awesome.



Jim Battle

I have to differ, strongly. The metaphor is not applicable, although it has a “feel good” message, a bit like chicken soup for the soul.

In the case of the shopping cart, in either pulling or pushing you attempting to achieve the same thing. You can pick one or the other (or some other more esoteric means of motivating the cart simply for the sake of being an internet smarty-pants).

In most situations where you might consider positive or negative feedback, only one or the other applies. Say your dog retrieves the newspaper. Any rational person would consider giving positive feedback, but not negative feedback.

“Well, you might attempt to train him by giving him negative feedback for not bringing it back.” True, but that is a different situation in a different moment.



Juan Perez

Mmmh not quite convinced ( perhaps I didn’t understand well :P )

I heard that we humans learn more from bad things that from good things. For that’s the way we make it to survive.

Take the following example.

Say you’re a construction worker in charge of security, you might have been doing some security job for years. Everybody recognizes you and praise you. Perhaps you’re the “worker of the year for 10 yrs in a row” and you’ve saved hundreds of lives ( with proper recognition each time )

But, one day, somebody dies because you make a single mistake in security, a single in your whole career. It was an accident, nones’ fault. You overcome it and have a good productive life after that.

I been told, that single mistake teaches you more, than all the previous success. Because we humans learn more from that. We learn to scape from wild animals in the forest more only after someone in the tribe died at the tigers paws.

I don’t know much more about the subject, but I certainly remember more the day when I burn my house carpet at 6 yrs old, than any other day of that same year. :) :) :)

Was this the topic? :P



Carlos Cordoba

Krishnamurti says “Where there is choice there is not freedom”. Your analogy resembles me of his words.



johnjbarton

I guess the cart is easier to pull if you are taller than the cart so that some of your force is pulling the cart up and over the gravel, rather than using some of your force to push the cart down and into the gravel.



Richard Mao

this is a great piece of lesson for leadership …i love the lines above , must share with my friends


Very interesting, Aza.

Although I agree with you wholeheartedly…

Consider a situation, or approach, that employs both negative and positive enforcement concurrently. There’s a balance there that allows for the positive (‘corrective path’, as you describe) and the negative, a ‘learn from your mistakes’ approach. It’s true that through unguided discovery we often learn things we may not have encountered in a more structured, or guided, learning environment.


    you have a great blog here! would you like to make some iivnte posts on my blog?


Yeah, but it’s a lot funnier.
http://www.design-police.org/



Jeremy

So, tell me more about this “right way” …



Confused

I don’t quite get the significance of the difference between positive and negative reinforcement. Both encourage the behavior and would tend to direct whoever you are reinforcing with what behavior is desired.
Is it possible that you are confusing negative reinforcement with punishment? Note that negative reinforcement and punishment have opposite effects. Negative reinforcement encourages a behavior (by removing something undesirable) while punishment discourages the behavior.


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Nicely put. Good analogy.
There is also beauty in chaos, don’t you agree?


Your site is a professional and personal inspiration to me. Your reflections are spot-on and often very poignant. Keep up the great work. :)



Sex

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good work, thanks admin


Say your dog retrieves the newspaper. Any rational person would consider giving positive feedback.


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